I took a moment to reorient myself in the mines. We’d come from that direction, and were going in that other direction. Right.
I glanced at my stripped, headless former body. It felt all sorts of wrong to just leave it. On a deep, fundamental level it was like leaving the dead unburied. On a more practical note, it could attract predators, and put them on their trail.
Put them on my trail, and they’d know exactly how tasty I was.
“Anyone got ideas for how to handle…” I gestured to what I was trying hard to not think of as “my body.”
There was no way in hell that I’d consider eating my own body. I wasn’t Ponticus from Perinthus, who happily ate his own fingers. That was fifty levels of NOPE NOPE NOPE.
I’d seriously consider violating [Oath] if any of the dwarves suggested it.
Burning lethal holes in a body - my body - was easy mode, especially now that it was no longer System-enhanced.
Shouldn’t be System-enhanced. It’d be all sorts of weird and creepy if the System still considered it part of me, and I’d be faced with some really uncomfortable questions.
It was a different matter entirely to try and burn away the WHOLE body though. Cooking, yes. Vaporizing, no.
There was some awkward silence, and dozens of glances exchanged. For as chatty as the dwarves were when I’d initially been decapitated, they were lost for words when it came to the practicality of cleaning up. Everything rumbled, some rocks and dust falling from the ceiling. The sanguine pool had ripples going through it, and a tiny wave. That seemed to break the silence, and Ned spoke up.
“You just regenerated. Your entire body. In one go.” He said, with a strange, halting flow.
I was half-annoyed that the topic wasn’t being addressed, half smug-pleased. Especially because it was Ned, who’d been a huge pain. Well, I’d shown him up before, and now I’d irrefutably shown him up forever more.
I decided to let smug-pleased win, and preened a bit.
“Yup! All in a day’s work! Only took about a third of my mana pool to do so.” I said, immensely enjoying dropping the bombshell on them.
After that particular revelation, I had no fear of flies, not with four flycatchers out and about. I gave them a few minutes of stunned silence, before realizing my usual trick of closing mouths with a finger on the chin wouldn’t work here.
Their beards were too big and bushy.
Finally, Fik broke the silence.
“I could try to build a small cairn, but I don’t have enough mana to do it in one go. You might be able to regrow your entire body in a second, but, uh, I don’t quite have that much mana.” Fik said, somewhat stupidly.
That seemed odd to me, even as a Spell-axe, even with a lower tier class, he should have enough. Then again - a cairn sounded like a LOT of mana, and we didn’t exactly have much to spare.
I decided to interpret his answer as “it’d be a bad idea to use that much mana” not “I magically can’t.”
I made a decision, the only one I could.
“Right, let’s move on.” I said, briefly looking at the blood, thinking about jumping over it, but figuring that the ceiling was too low for a proper jump. Seeing no other option, I walked through the kiddie-sized pool of blood, hearing the slosh-slosh of blood around my ankles.
I heard some minor arguing behind me, and I glanced over my shoulder to see what was going on.
“Come on Fik! It’ll only take a minute.” Drin implored Fik.
I paused on the other side, curious what would only take a minute.
“Elaine made it through just fine!” Fik protested back.
“Yeah, but I don’t want to be wringing blood out of my socks. No offense.” Drin said, glancing at me, catching my eye.
“Work work work.” Fik muttered, as he gestured.
I quietly cursed to myself as I saw Fik carefully putting some stepping stones down.
Right, that totally would’ve been an option. Not sure why Fik had delayed crossing himself if he didn’t want to put rocks down, but eh. I wasn’t going to try to delve into his mind.
It took a few minutes for Glifir to pick up the trail again, and I hesitated. My mana was regenerating at a good clip, but I didn’t have enough to repeat that stunt.
However, time was ticking, and as Glifir picked the trail back up, I confidently led the way. The amount of mana I needed to use to heal myself was directly related to how much mass I needed to restore and the quality of my image. If I just healed my torso, and left stubs for my arms and legs - “scarred over” - I’d be fine.
I was willing to risk probably.
Behind me, the dwarves were furiously whispering, and over all the other chittering, clicking, dripping, and new banging noises, I heard some of their conversation.
“She really just…”
The rest trailed off, but I could imagine the gestures.
“Yeah, she did.”
“Ned, could you do that?”
“No.” He reluctantly admitted. “Not even close.”
I refrained from pumping my fist. I’d wanted to prove who the better healer was, and, well.
Superiority shown. Dominance established. Not only that, but he’d been asked twice. And said it twice.
I just needed him to do it a third time. There was something special, something magical, about Ned being forced to confirm I was the best three times.
“She didn’t even take a break, think she can do it again?”
“No. That’d be insane.”
“I totally can do it again!” I yelled over my shoulder.
I couldn’t help it. I strutted down the latest hallway, only for the cruel gods in the sky above to remind me that I was a puny mortal.
The passage we were in shook, like a god had descended to Pallos, picked up the planet, and shook it like a snowglobe. I bounced off of walls and ceilings and floors, with no idea which one was which. Bones broke only to be immediately reformed, and an eternity, seconds, later, it stopped.
I got up and shook my head. I then turned around, and sprinted to where the dwarves were, cursing that I’d made [Wheel of Sun and Moon] depend on being able to see the sky. Totally useless down here.
I glanced at my mana to see that… I had more mana than when I’d checked after the decapitation. My regeneration was simply insane, but I was starving. Needed to find some food soon. Should ask Glifir for a snack real soon.
I got to the dwarves, only to see them groaning and picking themselves up off the ground, Ned looking like he’d salvaged some of his wounded pride.
“We’re all good here.” He told me.
I glanced at the dwarves getting up, and shrugged.
“Right then!” I said, only to hear the steadily increasing roar of water.
“Brace!” Drin yelled, grabbing onto me and Glifir. Fik and Ned grabbed onto each other, and I managed to link hands with Glifir as a small wave of water rounded the corner, and kinda pathetically crashed into us. I’d happily jumped into bigger waves in Remus, when I’d had some downtime.
I eyed the receding water, flowing around us, and slowly put the pieces together.
Mines. A complex interlocking system, of shafts going gods-knows-where and collapsed passages goddesses-knows-where. Water flowing down and filling up where it can, only for a massive jolt to shake everything loose. Something had broken a water reservoir, and it’d come crashing down, only for the speed and momentum to rapidly bleed out as it needed to turn corners and fill endlessly branching tunnels with water.
“Any chance of getting tracks out of this?” I hopelessly asked Glifir. I figured it was worth checking.
I got an “Are you stupid?” look back.
“With all due respect, no.” Glifir said. “However, we can keep following the direction, and hope.”
“Your snacks are still dry, right?” I asked, failing to keep the longing and desire out of my voice.
We weren’t running anymore, or even jogging. No, wading through water, as it made [Shine] dance and reflect in crazy ways across the hallways, was the order of the day. It was currently waist-high, but that wasn’t saying much on me. It was also draining fairly rapidly, to gods-knows-where.
A hallway and a killed slime later, I eyed a collapsed rockfall trap, grateful that whatever force had shaked us to the bone had also shaken the traps loose. Made our job easier.
I wasn’t going to assume they’d all been sprung, but I was going to boldly assume that water was not part of a trap, and that it would probably hinder whatever traps would go off.
I could imagine a trap that was faster in water than in air. I couldn’t imagine whoever was setting these traps would anticipate all the tunnels getting half-flooded and having the traps that were laid ready to be faster under water than above.
I climbed up the pile of rocks, and half-crawled along them, the ceiling pressing above, to get to the other side. Of course, as soon as I landed and cursed the intractable mud that the dust and the water inevitably made all over me, I was called.
“Hey! Over here!” Glifir yelled.
“Do you need me?” I called back, hoping the answer was no.
“You should really see this!” Drin added in. Welp, back up and over I go. At least I was out of the water for some time.
A hop, a skip, and a jump later, and I was staring at a pillar of ice. While we couldn’t see the ends, it was clear that it continued far on up above us - and well on down below.
Fik let out a low whistle.
“I don’t want to see whatever creature can make that.” He told us.
I looked at him like he was an idiot.
“We probably did?” I said in a tone that tried, but failed, to not be patronizing.
He had the good grace to look embarrassed.
“That was cold.” Glifir said, giving me a grin. Fik and Ned joined each other in groaning at the bad pun.
Still. I didn’t think I’d seen whatever used Ice - so the Guardian must be firing them from such a distance, that the System didn’t even give a presence notification. I’m not sure how I felt about that.
I crawled back over the rocks, and froze.
“Halt!” I yelled, and madly scrambled back over the pile.
“Drin! Shield! Fik! Get our other side! Glifir! Ned! Center!” I barked out orders. “Watch the walls!”
I don’t know if it was my tone, how long they’d been letting me be in charge, or the decapitation stunt - but they all snapped into position.
“What are we watching for?” Drin asked, eyes nervously darting around.
“I’m not entirely sure.” I replied. “But when I went over initially, it was just a tunnel. Now it’s an intersection, and something just made a new crossing tunnel, perfectly smooth and steeply angled. I don’t know what’s worse - if it was digging deeper, or something from deep below trying to escape.”
I’d had enough making dumb assumptions. I was now assuming that under our feet were beasts and monsters of all levels, and creatures as strong as the guardians we’d seen were resting below our feet, willing to burst out if we dug too deeply.
I wanted out.
“Nothing that can move that much rock that easily is low level.” Ned said, to nods of agreement.
“Heck, even if it doesn’t want to eat us, just trying to go through us like it goes through stone would be more than enough.” Glifir nervously added.
“Unless it’s a skill to eat stone.” I said, which had a few shoulders stupidly relax some of their tension.
After a few minutes of us ready for the walls to explode and a rock-eating monster of some sort to menace us, and nothing of the sort happening, we relaxed.
“Well. Better safe than sorry.” Ned said, to general nodding all around.
My legs were freezing. The mines started off cold, it was winter, the water was cold, and the pillar of ice was probably chilling everything even more. As long as I was moving, I didn’t notice it too much, but standing still was doing me no favors.
We climbed back over the wall, and water was backfilling here as well. We all paused in solemn contemplation as a face-down body floated along the current towards us. Ned waded over and flipped the body over, revealing a blue-faced dwarf, who was very dead.
Marks of violence were all over his body, his metal armor dented and broken in a dozen places, with a large gash in his chest indicating likely the fatal injury.
“Those aren’t monster marks.” I said, pointing out the obvious.
“Orcs.” Fik spat, which had me glaring at him.
“Oi!” I shouted at him.
“What!? Orcs suck!” He grouched back.
“We all need to stand in the water you just spat in! That’s gross!” I complained back at him.
I was ignoring the fact that I’d created pools of blood for everyone else to wade through.
“Orcs are the worst. Brutal savages, who love nothing more than to plunder and raid.” Drin said, spitting into the water.
Honestly. No manners among any of the dwarves.
“We keep beating them back, but they’re like cockroaches. They’re impossible to exterminate, and when there’s one, there’s a dozen more. No true dwarf can stand their presence. They’re a stupid, savage lot.” Glifir added.
Ned just spat three times. I assumed that was once for the rest of us.
“I have a woodchip mural of our champion slaying dozens of orcs in my home.” Ned said, swelling with pride.
Ah. That might’ve been the ugly-as-sin creature on Briga’s desk, the one I couldn’t figure out. For all the “we hate them”, they sure made a lot of artwork of the people.
At the same time, the dwarves seemed to be spewing a lot of standard “anti-other” propaganda. I’d heard “Uncivilized savages, good only for extermination” before, and it wasn’t exactly in a positive context - or a correct one.
“I bet the traps were made by them.” Fik said with disdain.
I’d need to make my own judgement, but anyone with the ingenuity to create the wide variety of traps and snares I’d seen was getting some high marks from me. They were leagues above goblins, and goblins already had enough sentience to give my [Oath] problems. I’d want to chat with an orc if I could, just to get the other side of the story.
“It’d be just like those brutes to not fight honorably.” He continued. Fortunately, not spitting this time.
The dwarves had notions of “honor” and “fair play” in fights.
We were totally doomed.